Posted by: patenttranslator | September 10, 2015

Will the American Translators Association Survive the Year 2025?


In the 1970s, I took the “wagon-lit” train from Prague to Moscow and back three times to work with Russian students on the construction of new production facilities for a “kolchoz” (collective farm) in a little town called “Mednoye” on the river Tvertsa between Moscow and Leningrad. Three weeks of work were then followed each time by a week of sightseeing in Moscow and Leningrad.

I worked every summer as an exchange student in different countries in the Soviet bloc (and once I was even allowed to go to Southern France to my utter delight and amazement) because this was the cheapest way to travel back then for a penniless linguistics student. So I traveled to USSR three times because I wanted to know how the things worked back in the USSR as the Beatles put it, and also because I loved (and still do love) the Russian language and culture.

My Russian did improve and I did find out many interesting things about how the big country called the USSR worked back then in the 70s.

For example, I realized that most intelligent and educated people distrusted and ignored official media and instead listened to Western stations available on their radio’s short waves in Russian. Once, during my last trip to the USSR at the end of the 70s when I was working for the same big collective farm, I overheard two Russian students discussing some thorny issue with passion. “And just how do you know that?” one of them asked his discussion partner. “Golos eto govoril” (The voice said so) answered the other one. “The voice” in this case meant Russian broadcasting of The Voice of America, one Western source of information that, although it was obviously state propaganda too, supplied much more reliable information than the official Soviet media. The reference to “The Voice” seemed to have settled the issue. If “The Voice” said so, it must have been true.

One of the Voice of America programs the Russian students who I was working with were listening to on their radios was a serialized reading from Andrei Amalrik’s essay called “Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984?” The essay was written in 1969, just after the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Soviet tanks (with a symbolic presence of a few troops from other Warsaw Pact countries) by Andrei Amalrik, a Russian writer and dissident who was eventually exiled in 1976 and died shortly after that in a car accident in Spain in 1980.

It was an unforgettable experience for me to watch the faces in a group of Russian students who were listening with great interest to Amalrik’s essay booming in Russian from the speaker of a big transistor radio placed on a wooden table outside the kitchen so that everyone could hear the broadcast.

Amalrik did not live to see the breakup of the Soviet Union, but he was off in his prediction of the ultimate demise of the Soviet state by only eight years, although he obviously picked the date as a reference to George Orwell’s famous novel “1984”.

Amalrik believed that the Soviet empire would collapse because unlike Gorbachev, he thought that liberalization and democratization of the Soviet state was impossible. He said, for example: “If … one views the present “liberalization” as the growing decrepitude of the regime rather than its regeneration, then the logical result will be its death, which will be followed by anarchy.”

I am paraphrasing the title of his essay in the title of my blog post about the American Translators Association today because, although ATA is obviously not the USSR, I see certain similarities between the former Soviet state and the present association of American translators.

The Soviet Union did not live up to the promises and ideas upon which it was based. I believe that the same is true about the American Translators Association and that is why I dare to question its prospective longevity in my post today.

According to ATA’s mission statement on its website, “The ATA was established to advance the translation and interpreting profession and foster the professional development of individual translators and interpreters”.

However, the paragraph just underneath this sentence says: “ATA’s 11,000 members include translators, interpreters, teachers, project managers, web and software developers, language company owners, hospitals, universities and government”.

So it would seem that it’s not really a translators’ organization, if for example various bodies of “the government” can become members too. Why should “the government” be eligible for membership in an organization for, of and by translators and interpreters? I don’t think it should because evidently, the interests of the government, (whatever the word means) do not necessarily coincide with the interest of translators and interpreters. Sometimes they may coincide, and sometimes they may clash. And when they clash, who do you think will be in a position of more power, the translators, or the government?

But an even bigger problem that I see with the definition of the purpose of an organization of, for and by translators is the reference on ATA’s website to the fact that “project managers” and “language company owners” can become ATA members as well.

Maybe there’s something wrong with me, but it bothers me to no end that anybody can become a member of the American Translators Association. It bothers me that anybody can become a member of the American Translators Association because many members of the association who are not translators joined the association as corporate members, obviously not in order to promote the interest of translators, but to promote their own interests, since translators’ interests are not exactly theirs as well.

Why should non-translators try to promote the interests of translators?

Are translators likely to be promoting the interests of butchers, airline pilots, or postal workers? Well, no, not really, and why should they? We translators certainly appreciate the hard work of all of these folks, or most of us do, but we’re not joining their associations, are we? If we did so, we would probably have an ulterior motive for that; the act of joining an association where one has to pay an annual fee would otherwise be somewhat inexplicable, would it not?

I would only join their association if they gave me something in return for my money: butchers could offer the best cuts of meat or my favorite Cajun sausage at a discount, airline pilots an upgrade to first class at no additional cost, and postal workers … well, I don’t know off hand what they might have for me, but I could figure out something in return for my money from them too.

So I have to ask myself: when non-translators are free to join an association of translators, as they are now, why are they doing so, unless it is to secure an advantage, such as gaining easy access to cheap and pliant labor? As I wrote in a previous post about ATA, this is the biggest problem with the ATA at present and many translators have come to the conclusion that the reason why ATA is unable to represent the interests of mere translators is that it is being pulled in different directions.

However, the biggest clash between interests of different and disparate parties who, as things stand now, are perfectly free to become members of an association that is supposed to serve the interests of translators, is in this case not the potential clash between interests of the government and of translators, or between the interests of website developers and those of translators, or between the interests of representatives of hospitals and universities and those of translators, although, again, our interests do not necessarily coincide with the interests of these non-translating corporate ATA members either.

By far the biggest problem I see in the definition of who can become an ATA member is that translation agencies are also able to join the same organization for translators as corporate members.

It’s no coincidence that translation agencies no longer even call themselves what they really are.

They’re trying very hard to change their name from mere “agencies” to “companies”, or even “Language Service Providers (LSPs)” to make it seem as though it is them, the brokers, who are providing translation services. But of course, these services are provided by translators, not by translation agencies who want to be seen as “language service providers”. Another minor, really quite tiny conflict of interest that I see here is that if the translation agencies want to be able to survive and prosper, since the services must be provided by and purchased from translators, the translation agencies need to buy the services at the lowest rate possible so that these services can then be sold at a higher price. The lower the translation cost, the better for the bottom line of the translation agencies, who can then sell the translations to actual customers who need to have something translated at a healthy markup.

But as far as ATA is concerned, there is no conflict here between the interests of translators and translation brokers. What is good for agencies is good for translators as well because we are all one big, happy family.

But is it really the case that translation agencies and translators are one big, happy family? Well, not exactly, not really, not at all! As a commenter on my blog brilliantly put it in my previous post about the inherent conflict obvious in the pros and cons of the concept of corporate membership in an association of translators: “Such an association or institute can best be compared with a cart that has a horse at both ends, pulling in opposite directions. Everything else is just noise”.

I believe that translation agency owners should have the same right as anybody else to join ATA, provided that they can prove that they are in fact translators, which is to say that they translate a language (or a few) for a living. But if they don’t make a living in this manner, if they are only corporate brokers who are not able to generate income from their own translation, what are they doing in an organization for translators?

Translators’ associations in a number of other countries have solved the problem of corporate members in an organization of translators in the manner that I am suggesting as it really is the only logical choice: they don’t allow corporate membership.

As far as I know, Germany is among countries that don’t allow corporate membership in an association for translators, and so is Australia. In other countries, such as UK, corporate membership is still providing a healthy income stream to the Institute of Translation & Interpreting, although translation agencies in Britain also have an association for what they call translation companies, as do their counterparts in the United States. I talked to several people from the UK a few days ago at the Third Conference of the International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters (IAPTI) in Bordeaux, France, and they were not very happy about this arrangement. Incidentally, IAPTI does not allow corporate membership.

If you’re a translation agency, it makes very good sense to put ATA’s logo on your website if you want to inspire trust among translators and customers alike. But the only thing the logo proves is that your membership fee is paid up. In fact, it means nothing about the quality of the agency’s work or of the translations, nor does it mean that the translation agency uses honest practices for dealing with its translators. I have read at least a dozen complaints from translators who protest on LinkedIn and other online media that they were lured by ATA’s logo to accept work from an agency that turned out to be a non-payer.

As things stand now, you get to put the logo on your website if you pay ATA, which means that the ATA logo has in this case become simply an advertising gimmick. I think this is wrong. I think that the ATA logo should stand for honesty and quality.

The USSR in the end collapsed because it was based on dishonesty combined with poor quality. And that was why, just like Humpty Dumpty, it had a great fall, and all of Politburo’s tanks and soldiers couldn’t put USSR back together again.

I hope that ATA will in fact survive to the year 2025 because even as it exists now – even as it exists based on a contradictory principle according to which one donkey cart is pulled in two opposite directions by two donkeys (and one of these donkeys is much more powerful – you can make up your own mind which donkey would that be), the ATA still does a lot of useful work as most of its members are hard working translators who try their best to survive in a very difficult environment that has been recently created for them by greedy, dishonest, and extremely ruthless translation agencies.

But these important issues facing translators in the environment that has recently been created for them by the so-called translation industry are never even mentioned in the ATA Chronicle. As far as I can tell, ATA is not doing much, if anything, to help translators to change this environment that unlike a couple of decades ago, is much more hostile to translators. I think the reason why the ATA Chronicle, the journal of the American Translators Association, never even dares to mention subjects that are vital for our professions’ survival is that an honest and impartial analysis of these subjects might displease its corporate members.

I for one hope that ATA will survive the year 2025, 2035, 2045 and for many more decades after that. But unless it abolishes corporate membership to finally start solving the problem of conflicting interests, I am not really going to care much about its longevity because whenever I open up an issue of the ATA Chronicle, (my only means of communicating with the association as I only participated in one ATA conference in 1998), I have a weird déja vu feeling of being again back in the USSR.



  1. Brilliant Steve! I couldn’t agree more.

    It was a pleasure meeting you at the IAPTI gathering in Bordeaux.



  2. Thank you, the pleasure was all mine.

    I should have asked you to teach me how to order wine in French like a true man of the world …. well, maybe there will be a next time.


  3. Every time I read a discussion of the corporate membership aspect of the ATA, here and elsewhere, I feel somewhat as though I, an active ATA member for 22 years, am being singled out as an idiot who doesn’t see how much my professional interests are being poisoned, or a despicable traitor to the profession for having any connection with such an evil organization. It reminds me of the ubiquitous sneers of Apple users on the Internet which I have finally learned not to take personally. I know that people with criticisms of the ATA are not attacking its members personally (at least most of them aren’t), but here’s my response, anyway.

    1. The Chronicle is not a good source of information about the ATA. Members are making efforts to improve it, or abolish it, but as it stands it’s best ignored. If it dried up into dust and blew away on a passing breeze, the world would not suffer any loss. Anyone who thinks that they know anything important about what the ATA is doing by poking their noses into it is mistaken.

    2. It’s true that the ATA “was established to advance the translation and interpreting profession and foster the professional development of individual translators and interpreters.” At least its mission statement says so. Whether it’s doing that to the very best of its ability is a valid subject for discussion; opinions on this question differ greatly, and every organization of human beings can stand improvement. But the subject I want to focus on is: does an organization that includes both individual translator members and corporate members thereby, by that very fact, become incapable of advancing the translation and interpreting profession and fostering the professional development of individual translators and interpreters?

    I have often heard critics of the association say so, but I have never seen actual credible arguments for that view. The first thing to keep in mind that corporate membership is not the same thing as active membership. If you go to the bylaws on the ATA web site, you will find (Article III, Section 2, a.) that active members include “any person who (a) is professionally engaged in translating, interpreting, or closely related work, (b) is a citizen or permanent resident of the United States, and (c) has passed a certification examination administered by the Association or has achieved demonstrable professional status as determined by peer evaluation.” And Section 3, a. states: “Active members have the right to attend any of the Association’s membership meetings, use all of its membership facilities, and receive all of its regular publications free or at special membership rates. They also have the right to take certification examinations, to vote, to hold Association office, and to serve on the Board of Directors and all committees of the Association,” whereas paragraph d. of that section states: “Institutional and Corporate members have all the rights and privileges of Active members except the right to vote, to hold Association office, to serve on the Board of Directors or standing committees, and to take certification examinations.”

    3. So what poisonous influence would these nefarious institutional and corporate members have on the individual translator/interpreter members? They can’t vote in elections, hold offices, serve on the board of directors or standing committees, or take certification examinations. What do they do, in fact? They have a presence at the conferences, where they engage in the disgusting activity of getting to know translators/interpreters and conduct negotiations concerning possible jobs. They often hold sessions, where agency-independent contractor relationships are openly and vigorously discussed and debated. They have booths in the exhibition room, where they cast evil spells on the individual translator/interpreters passing by and somehow indelibly corrupt their souls, I suppose. Corporate members have personal relationships between their employees and individual translator/interpreters, which I suppose enables them to cook up dangerous plots in secret. Otherwise, I don’t understand how they’re supposed to ruin the association.

    Having attended nearly every annual conference in those 22 years, I know from experience that contacts among all the attenders “foster professional development” and to some extent or other “advance the translation and interpreting profession.” Besides the conferences, there are quite a few other ATA activities in which this fostering and advancing can take place (it doesn’t always, of course, but hey, we try to do our best).

    I suspect that people who don’t like the idea of corporate membership simply don’t like agencies, or LSPs, or whatever they want to call themselves, at all and want to stay as far away from them as possible. If that’s their preference, fine. Nothing is stopping them from organizing their own agency- and corporation-free translator/interpreter organization. Best of luck to them! But they should get to work doing that, and wooing individual ATA members away to their new organization.

    4. Booting out corporate members has in fact been discussed frequently in the past in ATA circles and will undoubtedly come up as an important topic at the next conference in Miami early in November. But even if it were decided to take this step then, it would take a number of years to accomplish, obviously. The ATA doesn’t do anything quickly. Patience! Patience!

    5. I also want to say that, as a person who works with scientific documents all the time, I have great respect for the scientific way of getting knowledge. I think it’s the only way, or at least the most reliable way, of finding things out. And for it to work, people who make statements about facts in the world need to back up those statements with sufficient empirical evidence.

    When people complain about the bad effects of corporate membership on the ATA, I somehow never see any evidence of this kind. For example, a substantial list of statements of the form: “On such-and-such a date, in such-and-such a place, the interests, working ability, or other properties of member A, B, or C were grievously harmed by the fact that companies X, Y, and Z were members of the ATA.” All I see or hear are vague suspicions of corruption and complaints to the effect that “Somehow, it just doesn’t smell right to me for those companies to belong to ‘our’ association.”

    If these suspicions and vague odors are all that the complainers can come up with, I don’t have much respect for their ability to discuss factual matters in an intellectually respectable way.


    • Thank you for your comment, Zenner.

      Just because your opinion is different from mine does not mean that one of us is an idiot.

      But I hope that you too would agree that the issue of whether corporate membership is appropriate for an association of translators should be voted on at the next ATA conference so that ATA members could have their say, would you not?


      • Well, it might or might not be voted on in Miami; there are various ways for questions and issues to be raised at various points in the conference. Established procedures, you know. This subject has been debated as long as there has been an ATA, I think, so it’s not news.

        This is the basic situation, I reckon. The ATA, like all large organizations, has a small subset of people who have much more influence on how it behaves than the rest—a “power structure,” “ruling class,” or whatever you want to call it. In the ATA, it’s the Board and other officers, as well as some old hands and “in-groupers” who are influential on the officers. The key to changing all of the defects in the organization as it operates now, and there are quite a few of those defects, is to organize a large percentage of the membership to inform themselves about the issues, debate them, put forward candidates who will make the needed changes, and certainly not last but least: get off their duffs and vote!

        The percentage of ATA members who vote is pitiful, just as the percentage of Americans who take their responsibility as citizens seriously and drag themselves to the polls to vote is pitiful. Why is this? Most people are too lazy to do the work of finding out what the issues are and which candidates take which positions, and last but not least manage to actually vote. (In the case of the U.S., it’s also because there are enormous and growing obstacles put in the way of low-income and non-white citizens who might want to vote. At least the ATA doesn’t have that problem. It’s extremely easy for any member to vote; you don’t even have to go to the conferences.) But it’s much easier and more comfortable to sit on the sidelines and grumble and grouse about their pains—cry in their beer, as the saying goes.

        And also to cook up conspiracy theories, such as the idea that the whole problem with the ATA is that it has corporate members.

        Let’s do a little thought experiment (scientists often do those). Suppose that the Good Fairy eliminated all the corporate and institutional ATA members overnight, leaving only individual members. (Including, let’s say, the individual translators/interpreters who also happen to be owners of corporations, who are not the bad corporations like TransPerfect, as the eminent Gabe Bokor points out in his fine comment at Would the people who actually steer the organization, the power structure I mentioned above, go away, or would they change their orientation? Obviously not.

        It’s the real power holders that need to be changed, to put the power in the hands in the right people. (Hint: it’s called a revolution—a democratic one.) And the process of effecting this change has been underway for some time and is continuing, as shown by the fact that the composition of the Board has actually been changing in recent years. If more people who are dissatisfied with the organization bothered to vote, the change would happen faster.

        The presence or absence of corporate members has practically nothing with the whole situation, since they—I repeat again, and can’t repeat often enough—can’t vote, sit on the Board or hold other offices, etc.


  4. Posted on ATA List-serv first by Milena

    As you well tell us, this is not the first time.

    More than a decade later, the inherent conflict of interest is even greater
    and more public. It is tearing at the fabric of our wonderful ATA.
    Transperfect is not the only company out there hurting our profession. The
    UK Ministry of Justice ALS fiasco comes to mind as well as L-3 Titan or
    Hispanic Voices. I am frankly tired of some companies’ questionable, when
    not outright criminal, business practices. It infuriates me to have
    wonderful language companies lumped with and suffering because of them.
    Fortunately, language companies have created (from the ATA) their own
    Association of Language Companies (ALC) that represents their interests.

    Now that they are well established, it’s time to let them move out of the ATA
    parental home. ALC, not ATA, should police its ranks.

    I am all for timely amicable divorces, emphasis on timely. Even though the
    first couple of years after the separation may be somewhat tense, in due
    time both associations and their members will learn to accept and respect
    each other and collaborate here and there in support of one thing or
    another. This divorce will trickle down to ATA chapters and affiliates,
    which would be greatly beneficial to all concerned.

    In summary, my inclination is to eliminate the Corporate membership category since this group of vendors have competing and sometimes diametrically opposed interests to the other group of vendors (self-employed translators and interpreters) which are the vast majority of ATA members. Be warned that ignoring power dynamics and conflicts of interest is dangerous for any
    professional association. This cleaning up house will inevitably lead to a
    more focused and proactive ATA neither hindered nor afraid to defend the
    interests of its constituency. I anticipate some, though not
    unsurmountable, difficulties in redefining the ATA membership categories.
    There might be a need for adding to the current Active Member Category an
    exclusionary clause stating: “Active membership does not mean an owner,
    manager, or employee of a broker or a language services company or
    non-profit corporation.” There may also be a need to have a discussion
    regarding the institutional category. When and if the motion is presented at
    an ATA membership meeting, it should include the definitions for the new
    membership categories.

    Not having language companies and other types of institutions as members in
    ATA does not necessarily preclude them from sponsoring (yes, money),
    presenting or participating in any ATA conference, or other ATA events. In
    fact, we could hold the ATA conference close or in conjunction with the ALC

    Finally, when the founding fathers created the United States they were very
    aware that slavery was in conflict with the country and society many of them
    wanted. However, it was allowing slavery or not severing the ties with the
    UK. ATA founding members were aware of the problem of allowing language
    companies in their midst but a flawed professional association is better
    than none. The United States has had many amendments to its constitution. So
    can ATA.


    Liked by 2 people

  5. So, can the two opposing views on the value of having corporate membership in a translators’ association be summarised as follows?

    Against: the inherent conflict of interest is part of the very fabric of the organisation and will affect (almost?) everything it does, and as a result it won’t represent translators’ interests as effectively as it otherwise could.

    For: the conflict of interest exists but in practice doesn’t affect things, or perhaps only minimally, and the advantages outweigh the disadvantages – primarily through greater combined advocacy clout, the ability to make progress on shared issues by working together in-house, and financially.


  6. Both summaries are plausible, but from what I’ve heard from translators, the conflict of interests does affect just about everything in a very bad way, and it is probably the main reason why the ATA is unable to represent translators’ interest because they clash with the interests of corporate members.

    And that is obviously my opinion too.


    • If anyone expects the ATA to work like a labor union, which acts to further the interests of workers (if it’s a decent union, at least), then of course they’re going to be dissatisfied.

      Union-like organizations for independent contractors like most individual translators and interpreters are very difficult to organize. I did belong for a while to the Translators and Interpreters Guild, which is a local of the Newspaper Guild, part of Communications Workers of America. It never went anywhere as a general translators’ “union,” but is now doing pretty good work, I here, for court interpreters on the West Coast. This is a kind of niche that unions for translators or interpreters can work in.

      If translators/interpreters feel that their interests need defending, they can do that on their own (freelancers who know how to run their businesses and pay attention to their p’s and q’s have been doing that since forever), join organizations such as the Freelancers Union ( (again, not really a union, but it’s an organization I’d recommend people look into, or set about organizing another translator/interpreter-only union-like organization (and lots of luck on that–it would be a huge undertaking).

      I repeat that, in my view and that of many others who have had years of experience in the ATA, the presence of corporate and institutional members really does not “clash with the interests of individual members.” I still can’t see any evidence that that’s anything more than grumbling by folks who really don’t know much about the ATA. It’s just an unsubstantiated charge that’s been around for years–it’s tin-foil-hat territory, as far as I can see.

      Nevertheless, it will undoubtedly be a topic of discussion in Miami, and maybe some members will get together to do some real research on the subject and come up with an actual proposal for changing the bylaws in a year or two or three.


  7. Yes and if that’s the case, and there’s no reason why a translators’ association and an association of agencies can’t cooperate and collaborate as Milena indicates, isn’t the only downside of a split the financial implications for the translators’ association?


  8. Absolutely.

    It’s about money, that’s all.


    • Yes, it IS about money. [sigh] Call it our own Citizens United. [sigh][sigh]

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Correction: “to put the power in the hands in the right people” -> “to put the power in the hands of the right people”


  10. It’s about the money especially when they say “It’s not about the money”.


  11. In the world of national politics, corporations cannot be elected to parliaments/congresses/senates etc. either; and yet, they are extraordinarily keen to provide financial and other support to the political system.
    I wonder why that is.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. A senior member of a board of a translators’ association (sufficiently vague?) once told an individual complaining about corporate members that we owe our income to them, i.e. if corporate members are not supported and prioritised, we (the sole traders) earn nothing, and if we earn nothing, we cannot pay our membership fees. Keep them happy and everyone is happy. If that’s the attitude of everyone running our professional associations then they’re evidently of no use to us at all.

    The sad fact is that banning corporate members isn’t a solution either. There is nothing to stop an agency owner from joining an association as an individual and continuing to promote the message that we cannot live without them and must learn to accept market forces.


    • Well, look. Saying that “corporations in the translation business are bad and should be shunned or thrown out” is like saying “food is bad, so we should stop eating it.” These generalization get us nowhere. Some food is bad, and shouldn’t be eaten, and some food, fortunately, is good, or we would starve to death.

      Some corporations (I guess mainly what is meant by this is agencies) are good, some are bad, and some are terrible. Newbies in the business have trouble avoiding the bad and terrible ones, and need help and guidance in this respect from more experienced hands. They can actually get that help within the ATA, believe it or not, or outside it. The ATA is not the Soviet Union; it doesn’t have secret police who murder subversive members who say bad things about agencies.

      It’s absolutely true that banning corporate members isn’t a solution to anything. As a matter of fact, individuals who can qualify as active members can join and enjoy the rights of active members whether or not they are also owners or employees of corporations. Corporations themselves, as legal corporate entities, can’t vote, hold offices, sit on the Board, or sit on standing committees. In fact, I have seen estimates that active members who also own companies are about 5% or less of the active membership, so they’re not a steamroller that’s about to crush everyone else into the pavement.


  13. Actually, your corporate member has it backwards.

    They owe all of their income to us. Without us, they can’t make a single penny because we are the ones doing the work, they just mark up the translations and resell them.

    Some translators work mostly for translation agencies, some work for direct clients and agencies, and some work only for direct clients. But as far as I know, there are no translation agencies that can translate without translators.

    Since most of my income is from direct clients, mostly patent law firms, I am independent of translation agencies. I still work for a few, but only a few and they treat me very well. For example, one of them pays every two weeks, two agencies pay within a week, etc. That’s why I work for them (US patent law firms often pay late).

    Why do you think these agencies are so nice to me, Lisa? Unlike the corporate member mentioned in your comment, they realize that people like me are crucial for their business strategy.

    Abolishing the corporate member category in an association of translators is not a panacea, but it is a good start.

    You can’t serve two masters, you can’t sit on two chairs (without eventually falling), two donkeys pushing the donkey cart in opposite directions will get you nowhere, etc.

    Unless the ATA abolishes corporate membership, it will not be able to represent translators. I hope most translators realize by now that this is the only way forward that makes sense for the ATA.


    • Abolishing the corporate member category is not a good start to anything; it’s a red herring, a side track, a pseudo-radical idea that wouldn’t really alter anything about what the ATA does. Study my earlier posts again.


  14. No, Steve, read what I wrote again, this comment did not come from a corporate member (I wouldn’t be surprised to hear them spouting that kind of tosh) but from someone on the Board of one of our professional associations (I’ll leave you to guess which one). It illustrates how they believe/want to believe the dynamic actually works.


  15. I see.

    Some translators, or perhaps former translators, definitely suffer from what I would call Stockholm syndrome when it come to dependence on translation agency.


    • Some translators earn money by working for (good) agencies; even you admit that. I suppose you could call that “dependence on agencies.” Anyone who sells anything depends on her or his customers. How does this amount to “Stockholm syndrome”?


      • This is an excerpt from a comment of another translator (from UK) on this blog post. To me, it is evidence of the Stockholm syndrome mentality (i.e. if we’re not nice to them, we’re all gonna die), common among some translators:

        “A senior member of a board of a translators’ association (sufficiently vague?) once told an individual complaining about corporate members that we owe our income to them, i.e. if corporate members are not supported and prioritised, we (the sole traders) earn nothing, and if we earn nothing, we cannot pay our membership fees. Keep them happy and everyone is happy”.


  16. Reblogged this on Patricia Posadas, servicios de traducción and commented:
    Defender los derechos de los/las profesionales de la traducción…


  17. Reality Czech:
    Complaining about ATA does not work.
    It is funny how this discussion reminds me of discussions on FLEFO in mid nineties, when I dare to point out that ATA was discriminating against associate members, forcing them to pay the same membership fee and not giving them the same rights. I complained, talked to the board for years, they even “studied” it and nothing happened. But when I hired an expensive lawyer to politely threaten ATA with a lawsuit, they changed bylaws in 3 months (smile). The best way to change ATA is to have such letter served to ATA president and board members at the beginning of a conference. It is fun (smile). It worked like a charm for me in 1997, when I got fed up enough to pay a lawyer. Feel free to contact me privately, if you need more info how to get results from ATA quickly (smile)


    • That is certainly a course that can be followed if the ATA is doing something that could reasonably be considered illegal or something for which it could be sued for a tidy sum. What do you think the ATA is doing now that would fall into these categories?


  18. The mission statement of ATA says:“The ATA was established to advance the translation and interpreting profession and foster the professional development of individual translators and interpreters”.

    Clearly, it is not doing what is stated in its missions statement when corporate members can intimidate by their very presence mere translators into keeping their mouths shut.

    I don’t know and I don’t care whether ATA should or should not be sued because it is not doing what it is supposed to be doing. But I do know that it should try to live up to its mission statement, and it cannot do so until and unless deep-pocketed non-translators are no longer allowed to be members of the American Translators Association.

    The other option is for ATA to change its official name to Association of Translation Agencies (and it could still used the same acronym) because they are the ones running the show, albeit through proxies, at this point.


    • When has any “mere translator” been intimidated into keeping her/his mouth shut? Until I see actual believable evidence that that has happened (and more than once), I will continue to hold that this is mere rumor and smoke-blowing, and nothing that actually contributes to an intelligent discussion of the issue.


  19. Open your eyes, Zenner, that’s all I can say.


    • That’s all you can say because you don’t know anything. You know nothing about how the ATA actually operates because you refuse to have anything to do with it. That’s your perfect right, of course; lots of translators don’t want to be ATA members. But if you don’t know what you’re talking about, why keep talking?

      This is the end of my participating in this meaningless discussion. I have productive things to spend my time on.


  20. Since I have been an ATA member since 1998, I do know something about it.

    Over the years I have written several articles for the ATA Chronicle and the Chronicle published them. I know that there are many people who don’t have blinders on their eyes even in the ATA management.

    I criticize the organization because I believe that unless it solves the problem of corporate membership by abolishing it, which is what associations of translators in other countries, such as in Australia, did some time ago, the ATA will be becoming more and more irrelevant to established translators and it will be mostly a place to go for newbies, an association nominally for and of translators that does not really do much if anything for our profession.

    I criticize the ATA because I care about it. It must do better if it wants to remain relevant to translators instead of being a servant of “the translation industry”.

    I just wanted to put a few facts on the table.


    • Steve,

      I wonder how expelling translation companies, i.e., the clients of many freelance translators (not just newbies) from ATA would make it more relevant to ATA members. Would a supermarket make itself more relevant by kicking out 10% of its customers, who want lower prices, while the supermarket is interested in keeping its prices high?

      “unless it solves the problem of corporate membership by abolishing it”
      What problem? The theory, without any support in facts, that translation companies and translators have inherently and irreconcilably opposing interests? Or the ridiculous allegation that translation companies control ATA? Yes, some of our interests diverge, but on more issues we’re on the same side. If we have a problem (and that’s a big IF), expelling many freelance translators’ sources of income wouldn’t resolve it. And depriving ATA of 15% or more of its revenues would make us all pay higher membership dues, conference registration fees, and certification fees.

      Let’s remember that only a fraction of translators in the US are members of ATA. Translation companies could recruit translators outside ATA, since in most popular language combinations the supply of translators far exceeds demand.

      Translation companies complain that they pay higher dues, yet have no voting rights and their representatives cannot hold hold office as Board members, committee chairs, or division administrators in their capacity as representatives of corporate members. How do they control ATA? If they have attempted to do so (and there is no evidence that they ever have), they have failed miserably, since ATA’s Board never had more than a small minority of company owners, who are, of course, also necessarily translators.


  21. Gabe:

    I know I am not going to convince, so I am not going to try.

    But tell, me why should non-translators be members of an association of translators? I have no problem if you are a member as an individual because you are a translator, but why should Transperfect be a member?

    Corporate membership has ruined the ATA for real translators, that is how I and many translators see it.

    Abolishing the corporate membership category one way how translators who still are ATA members can start gaining ground lost to “the translation industry” in the last two decades.


    • Gabe:
      Look at your explanations and reasoning that ATA has no problem and no conflict of interest and try to change translators to lawyers and translation agencies to law firms.
      Those guys charge easily $500 per hour or more and if they think there is no conflict of interests, I am sure that American Bar Association would accept law firms as members.
      But last time I checked, ABA accepts only lawyers as members.
      Why do you think is that?
      I think that the main reason is that ATA wants the income from members and goes with the very simple, but stinking ethics:
      Money from translation agencies do not smell.
      How long do you think it will take to a good lawyer to look at ATA bylaws in detail and find out the build in conflicts of interest?
      ATA was established long time ago and I never heard that they paid a good lawyer to review their bylaws for conflict of interest issues between translators and translation agencies.
      Are you sure there are none?
      Are you willing to take a bet on it?
      If yes, how much?
      I bet there are plenty, and some of them will probably even be actionable.


    • “why should non-translators be members of an association of translators?”
      Because it’s in the translators’ interest to meet potential clients personally and be seen by them.
      Because most of agency owners/managers are translators themselves.
      Because we have more tools to sanction those who engage in unethical behavior or to convince them to cease and desist if they belong to the same organization.
      Because it gives our industry (including freelancers) more clout if we speak to government and the media with one voice.
      Because we can thresh out our differences more easily if we meet at the same events.
      Because many translators occasionally act as middlemen, or incorporate for tax reasons, which makes it difficult to draw the line between translators and agency owners.
      There are possibly more reasons, but let’s stop here.

      BTW, contrary to some allegations, ATA is not the only major translators’ organization that has corporate members. I know of at least one, BDÜ of Germany, which has “ausserordentliche Mitglieder,” which they translate as “associate members.” They include corporate and institutional members without voting rights.


      • Gabe
        Why it should be good for translators to met potential clients, when it is not good for lawyers? So that we get paid much less than lawyers?


      • You forgot the real reason, Gabe.

        Because translation agencies have a lot of money, especially the big ones, the ones that are the most dangerous and ruthless enemies of our profession, the ones that have driven rates down for so many translators in the last two decades, the ones that came up with the concept of fuzzy and full matches, the ones that want to replace translators by post-processors of MT vomit, the ones that put into “Non-Disclosure Agreements” that they have the right to come unannounced to our house to “check” on us any time they please, the ones that put into the same contracts that they have the right to spy on everything we do through our computers.

        Because ATA is not really that much about representing translators’ interest, at least not anymore.

        Because ATA is mostly about making money any way it can, and because ATA really likes that additional streams of incomes generated from membership fees and various other types of activities “sponsored” by translation agencies and other corporate non-translators, ATA became addicted to this money.

        Therefore, as Mitt Romney put it “Corporations a people too, my friends”.

        After all, they have much more money than real people.

        How could you have forgotten the main reason why ATA likes corporations so much, Gabe?


  22. Gabe
    you wrote:
    >> since in most popular language combinations the supply of translators far exceeds demand. <<
    Let me correct you:
    in most popular language combinations the supply of BAD translators far exceeds demand.


  23. Gabe
    What a logic. One organization does this conflict of interest, so we should follow it, and ignore the fact, that additional 99.9% of organizations don’t do it, and in majority of them their members are paid much better than translators.
    Any other good advice?


  24. Steve,

    The mega-agencies are not typical. The typical translation company is a mom-and-pop operation grown out of the practice of an individual translator, usually because he/she was successful enough to reach the point where it became impossible for a single person to handle the workload. I hate the big faceless guys and their unethical practices as much as you do, but they are a small minority among ATA’s corporate members. Why throw out the entire harvest because of a few rotten apples?


  25. I am not advocating that owners of translation agencies should not be eligible for membership in ATA. They should be, provided that they are also translators, but only as individuals, not as corporate entities.

    Otherwise I too would be ineligible for membership in ATA because I also operate as a translation agency, although the majority of my income is from my own translations.

    I am only against so-called corporate membership in ATA. Corporations are not people, and neither are they translators.

    And non-translators should not be members of an association that calls itself American Translators Association, even if it means that the ATA will lose income for this reason.

    It should not be just about the money.


    • There are different levels of inclusiveness or exclusiveness of membership of translation companies in translators’ associations. At one extreme there is the Chicata model, which excludes anybody connected to a translation company–owners, managers or employees–regardless of whether or not they are translators. Then there is the NETA model, which stipulates a certain minimum percentage of income derived from translation or editing to qualify for membership. And then there is ATA, which only requires that you “have an interest in translation” and, of course, to pay your dues. I personally prefer this latter model, although I could live with the NETA model or something equivalent. The model to be selected is to be decided on not on an ideological basis, but based on which model is most advantageous for the individual translator.

      In any case, let’s not make the mistake of extending the characterization of 3 or 4 mega-agencies to 750 corporate members of ATA.


  26. 1. I like the NETA model. It was discussed at the IAPTI Conference in Bordeaux. I am not sure whether NETA is still a member of ATA, but I like that fact that they are independent of the ATA, they have their own independent rules and hold their own conferences. The NETA member I talked to in Bordeaux did not like ATA too much.

    2. I wish it were only 3 or 4 mega-agencies. The problem is, dozens of smaller, hungry animals are eagerly imitating the big beasts to make more money in this manner and the result is that the “translation industry” is slowly devouring and destroying the translating profession.

    This is something that the Chronicle should be covering, but the Chronicle has been completely silent on these and many other important issues.


    • 1. No, NETA is not an ATA chapter or affiliate. And whoever doesn’t like ATA as it is or as it operates today, should run for office and try to improve it from within as I did in 2005. Or at least vote for those who promise to do so.

      2. Even if there are dozens of hungry animals wishing to emulate the big beasts, the typical translation company is still translator-owned and working hard to survive in today’s unfriendly environment.


      • Running for office means a lot of headaches and even if one wins, there will be plenty of other oldtimers, who will oppose to any changes. legal challenge is much faster and cheaper, and it works like a charm (smile). When I stop being busy, I will email the old lawyer, he was good the first time.


  27. “This is something that the Chronicle should be covering”

    In today’s electronic age you don’t need the Chronicle to get or spread information. I used to have the Translation Journal, and you have your site and blog to tell your side of the story at a low cost in money and effort.

    Are you a member of ATA’s Business Practices list? Inspired by the post on your site, I started a discussion there about breaking up ATA, and it had quite a few posts pro and con. You should check it out.


  28. You are the third person telling me to check it out, Gabe.

    I will do that.


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