Posted by: patenttranslator | September 17, 2015

Through the Eyes of Mad Patent Translator: Third IAPTI Conference in Bordeaux, France, September 3rd ~ 7th, 2015

Threats and Challenges-IAPTI III Picture

I’ve often been told that I need to get out more. In the 28 years that I’ve been an independent technical translator, I’ve been to three translators’ conferences: in 1991 it was the Second IJET Conference in San Francisco and in 1997 the 38th ATA Conference, also in San Francisco. For those who don’t know, IJET stands for International Japanese-English Translation Conference, and ATA stands for American Translators Association.

Truth be told, I participated in those two conferences mostly because back then I lived in San Francisco, or 45 minutes away at the time of the ATA conference. This time around, I decided to give a presentation at the Third IAPTI Conference, held September 3-7 in Bordeaux, France.

What are the chances that your airplane will be diverted to a different airport, the guy sitting next to you will barf on you and once you arrive to your destination after a day’s delay, your luggage will be lost, all during the same trip? For most people, probably only slightly higher than winning a lottery. But if you are me, the chances are much better as described in my previous post.

IAPTI stands for International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters. It’s a young association, established on September 30, 2009 (St. Jerome’s day), in Buenos Aires, Argentina, “… as a vehicle for promoting ethical practices in translation and interpretation and providing a forum for discussing problems typical of the globalized world, such as crowdsourcing, outsourcing, bad rates and other abuse” (Wikipedia). The First IAPTI Conference was held in 2013 in London, England and the Second IAPTI Conference in Greece, Athens last year.

Typical of a young association, the conference attendees were also young, much younger than me. I saw perhaps only two other people who might have been in my age group (I am 63). The rest of the attendees were a much younger crowd. I like being around young people as one of my goals in life is to never really grow up. Translators came to Bordeaux from every continent except Antarctica: from South and North America, Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia.

I Missed Some Presentations because I Arrived Late

Because I arrived one day late, I unfortunately missed some of the presentations that I wanted to see, and my own presentation had to be moved to the next day (thank you so much, Marta Stelmaszak, for graciously agreeing to swap your time slot for mine). It was also not easy for me to concentrate on the presentations I did attend because there were so many people there in the lobby of the Mercure Chateau Chartrons Hotel that I wanted to talk to, some of whom I have been talking to regularly on Facebook and through e-mail for several years although we never met in person up until the conference in Bordeaux, and there were some who I met for the first time at the conference.

Arriving late one day made me miss Kevin Lossner’s presentation on how to use new technology to increase productivity, which could not have been about post-processing of machine translation detritus, which is what the so-called translation industry often means by the term “language technology”. I missed Sameh Ragab’s session on how to be prepared for computer disasters and data loss. My own system is based on simply having several completely interchangeable workstations in two different rooms and saving all data on storage devices, but maybe I could have learned a few new tricks.

I also missed Tony Rosado’s talk about how to set one’s fees. I don’t know how I could have done that – I must have been so engrossed in passionate discussions with other translators in the lobby of the hotel that I forgot about the time.

But I was able to listen to several other very interesting presentations, such as the entertaining talk by Joao Roque Dias titled “Welcome to scammers’ world: Where nothing is what it seems”. I now have a much better picture in my mind of how the scams involving translators work.

Another interesting presentation, by Lukasz Gos, was titled “Contracts with agencies – outsourcing translation or outsourcing risk?” and the presentation by Felicia Negru (from European Union’s Directorate General for Translation) about bidding on “Contracts for Translation Services and EU Institutions” was also very interesting, although having heard the presentation, I decided to stick to bidding on patents for patent law firms and not to bid on EU contracts (too much red tape for my taste).

Two Japanese Translators Gave a Presentation at IAPTI III in Bordeaux

Because I mostly translate Japanese, for me the most interesting talk was given by Warren Smith, a fellow Japanese translator who called his presentation “Multimillion-dollar freelancing: Efficiency engineering in translation”. Since I was able to talk to Warren prior to his session in the hotel lobby, I know that the presentation that he gave at the Third IAPTI Conference was only a small part of a much bigger presentation that he had given at an IJET Conferences for Japanese translators. He had to tailor his presentation in Bordeaux to make it suitable for a different audience. I also understand Warren submitted a proposal to give this presentation at the ATA Conference to be held in November in Miami and that his proposal was turned down.

I would really like to know why it was turned down, because although his method is not suitable for my purposes, it is a very ingenious one that many translators may want to duplicate.

Warren’s method is geared toward doubling or tripling the amount of words that most experienced translators can generally produce per day, which tends to be around three thousand words (in my case). I have days when I can translate up to about five thousand words, but only when I am under the gun, and I am usually exhausted the next day.

Warren dictates his translation using specialized software and hardware, while walking around, or sitting or lying down in a specially constructed chair that looks more like a hammock on wheels than a chair. He uses a special mouse and a number of other special gizmos to speed up the translating process.

My Own Presentation Was Pretty Long, But Hopefully Not Too Boring

I called my own presentation “Threats, challenges and opportunities for translators in the modern version of corporatized translation industry”.

After an introduction, I started talking about how different the translation industry was when I was starting out as an independent translator in the mid 1980s in San Francisco. It was a very different world for translators back then, the Internet did not really exist yet and there were no big translation agencies. Most agencies were very small, and unlike with mega-agencies today, they were usually run by people who themselves were translators and who, unlike the brokers of today, understood foreign languages and potential problems hiding in most translations. They also generally paid translators well because their business strategy depended on finding the best translators and making sure that they would continue working for their translation agency.

After that, I briefly talked about Donald Phillipi, a well known Japanese translator and early pioneer of technical translation from Japanese whom I met in San Francisco in 1986 and whose example I later tried to follow by becoming an independent translator myself.

The Incredible Changes in So-Called Translation Industry Are Evident from “Non-Disclosure Agreements”

After that, I tried to illustrate the incredible changes in the so-called translation industry by citing examples of recent clauses from so-called Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) of some translation agencies, which nowadays can run to seven thousand words and can include clauses such as these:

1. A clause forcing the translator to acknowledge that no payment will be provided for a translation unless the translation agency deems in its wisdom the translation to be “satisfactory”, whatever that may mean.

2. A clause forcing transfer of materials subject to copyright protection from the translator to the translation agency, i.e. to the broker, rather than to the actual client who pays for the translation.

3. A clause stipulating that the translator, who is on paper an independent contractor, must agree not to discuss any negotiated compensation received from a translation agency with anybody else, including other translators, lest she be in breach of contract.

4. A clause that says that a translation agency has the right to conduct “unannounced audits” of translator’s premises (i.e. illegal raids on a private house), perhaps to make sure that the translator is not spending too much time with her family, or on Facebook, or eating the wrong kind of food.

5. Or even a clause that stipulates that the translator must provide remote access to her computer so that the translation agency could spy on her, ostensible to check whether “security software has been installed correctly” on the translator’s computer. Such spying capability would obviously be very useful if the translation agency wants to know who the translator’s other clients are, how much they pay, what kind of projects she works on, etc. Moreover, all other NDAs with all the translator’s other customers would be instantly invalidated if a translator agrees to such a clause because the agency insisting on such a clause could be also be privy to confidential information of the translator’s other clients, both direct clients and translation agencies.

When one translator in the audience asked me whether such clauses and conditions would be even legal in most countries, my answer was that to my knowledge there is only one country where these clauses would be perfectly legal: North Korea.

My Own Strategy Has Been to Let the Internet Work for Me Instead of Against Me Since the Year 2000

Toward the end of my speech I talked about my own strategy for staying in business and maximizing income, which is a little different from Warren Smith’s strategy for maximizing output as an independent translator. Since the early 90s, my own strategy has been based on becoming less and less dependent on translation agencies and working mostly for direct clients (although I still work regularly for a few translation agencies).

Up until about ten years ago, I was finding new clients mostly by sending direct mail to prospective leads at patent law firms. I must have sent thousands of letters in this manner to patent lawyers, starting with California and then basically broadening my mailing campaigns and applying them to every state in the United States, whenever I had free time to do so.

That was how I found my first direct clients in the 90s, and some of them are still sending me patents to translate to this day. Since the year 2000, I switched to a different strategy by making sure that prospective clients who need patents translated into English would be able to find out about my services through the Internet and Google.

The first step to that end was securing a suitable Internet URL for my business. I didn’t even know how to do something like that 15 years ago, but back in the year 2000, my Internet Service Provider was a tiny company in Silicon Valley that was run by two young guys. So I called one of them, his name was Tracy and he sounded like a teenager, and he told me how to secure several suitable domain names for my business, in particular my main domain name, I then asked a neighbor, who was a young website designer living just across the street, to create a business website to my specifications.

Nothing really happened for the first few years with my website, but from about the year 2003, Google started noticing my service and I started receiving offers to quote on patent translation projects from various sources, mostly patent law firms. I started tracking how much I made only from these new customers every year during the first ten years (it was a pretty nice bundle but I am not going to tell you how much it was here – you should have gone to the Bordeaux Conference).

This is how I am dealing with the threat posed by mega translation agencies to what used to be a very enjoyable and interesting profession and a fairly comfortable lifestyle before the greed and ruthlessness of some of these translation agencies changed the conditions under which many translators are living now.

Instead of allowing other people to use the Internet against me, which would be happening for instance if I had to bid against many other translators on projects from anonymous cheapskate clients on “marketplaces for translators”, I let the Internet, and in particular Google and other search engines, bring prospective clients directly to my website.

This is just one of several methods that translators can use to find new clients, especially direct clients. It may not work for everybody, but since it has been and still is working for me, it just could work for you too.

The alternative may be to simply learn how to live under the miserable conditions that have been created for translators mostly by mega-agencies in the so-called translation industry.

P.S. I would like to thank Danielle Gehrmann from Linguawise in Australia for allowing me to use her picture of my presentation in Bordeaux and to Louis Ortiz Lopez for allowing me to use his video covering the two days of the conference and gala dinner.


  1. Nice post, Steve! Like you, my goal in life is also never to grow up! 😉

    Not to make you feel bad or anything because I know you got delayed, but you missed my presentation too (*sniff*). On the bride side, you can catch a different version of it at ATA56. Will we be seeing you in Miami this year? I hope so, I’d love to hear your thoughts!


    • I am so sorry that I did not get to hear your presentation, or even talk to you, really. We were sitting only a table apart at the gala dinner, and now we are living again a continent apart, pretty much.

      I am not going to tempt fate by going to Miami so soon after Bordeaux – given my luck in Atlanta a few days ago, somebody might hijack the plane to Australia or something.

      But I am sure we will meet next year, either at the next IAPTI pow-wow, or I am even considering going to the ATA Conference in San Francisco as I have not been back there since 2001.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Steve – – This is another treasure. Your litany of the contract conditions likely to be legal only in North Korea is something I will reference over and over again. I’ve encountered every one of wacko conditions you’ve listed, in or another contract presented to me, and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry over the fact that some of these contracts were prepared by agencies specializing in legal translation (:^)). . .

    I find your way of looking at the Internet as friend v. foe fascinating, moreover. My LLC has been Google-Apps-for-Work-driven since last year, and while I’ve not yet landed direct clients through the SEO and networking opportunities associated with my Google Site, I am genuinely heartened to learn that it also took you a while to form a portfolio of direct clients, using your approach. Regardless, there is NOTHING that will ever convince me to go back to the days of bidding at ProZ and their ilk. . .Those days were the darkest of my freelance career to date.

    As for your account of the IAPTI proceedings – – Just wonderful. IAPTIans are a fabulous bunch. . .I so wish I could have made it to Bordeaux, so that I could meet you and connect with the other brilliant and incomparably WORLDLY professionals who attended. . .If our profession ultimately survives, this will, in my view, be owed wholly to the mission that IAPTI so effectively serves.


    • Well, you’ll just have to make it to the next IAPTI conference, Lucille.

      See you there.


  3. “I am not going to tell you how much it was here – you should have gone to the Bordeaux Conference.”

    Hi Steve, I am still around. Although I am curious about the number your disclosed at the Conference, I regret that I was not there only because I would like to have met all those guys and gals you mentioned in this post and those whom I have known through Internet since years and especially since IAPTI got established.

    Each time when I tell translators in Taiwan about you and your blog posts, they would respond, “Oh ya, we need to find some time for reading veteran translators like the one you are telling me.” And, of course, it would be nice to go out and meet other translators from around the world at conferences like IAPTI conferences. I wasn´t there because, while my daughters came from South America and Germany for visit during this period, I have had other obligations in Taiwan.

    Nice reading this post and the previous ones. You obviously enjoyed meeting IAPTI members and giving your presentation despite the Pech of being diverted to another airport to have a delay of one day and missed some interesting presentations.

    Thanks for the brief report on your impression at the Conference!


    • Thanks for commenting again, Wenjer.

      “Oh ya, we need to find some time for reading veteran translators like the one you are telling me.”

      If they can’t even find the time to read my blog, they’ll never grow up.

      You can tell them that.


  4. Great post, Steve! Is it possible to purchase a recording and/or transcript of the proceedings of the IAPTI Conference?


  5. I don’t actually know whether IAPTI recorded the proceedings on tape, or whether they will be available in printed form. They might have, but I am not sure.

    I do know that some individual presenters offered to send people the presentation if they ask for it, for example I heard Joao say that about the “Scammers’ World”.

    I did not record my talk.I was going to do that, but then I forgot to turn on my iPhone.

    All I have is just printed raw material that I was looking at while talking. I don’t know whether I should send it to you …. it’s not really in a proper form ….. and anyway, how much would you be willing to pay for it?

    Let the bidding start.


  6. Thank you so much, Steve, for this short résumé of the Conference. Now, I know what I have missed. 😦 I hope I will be able to make it next year.

    @Lucille: I agree 100% with you about trying to find work on portals. Those days were dark for me too, but fortunately, I stopped many years ago. I understood that the language we use is crucial too: I am now offering my services to potential clients instead of “bidding” for a “job”.

    @Paula, @Wenjer: You are also people I hope to be able to meet in person quite soon.


  7. Nice post, Steve! It was great seeing you there and catching up, if only for a little while. So many interesting people, too. Sorry I missed your talk


  8. I am sorry too. I had a part in my talk for you, I was going to ask you a question to wake up the audience, but I had to cut it out since you were not there.

    Maybe we can talk next year some place not that far from where you live …. like Prague.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. […] Through the Eyes of Mad Patent Translator: Third IAPTI Conference Keeping your business finances in check for freelance translators Misused English words and Expressions in EU publications (PDF) What you can do during slow periods in your translation business This is what happens if you can’t afford a professional translator Taking care of your body when you work at a computer all day Localizing Your Online Assets: Challenges and Opportunities 5 cardinal sins that will land your translator CV in the bin Time management for translators – it’s a mindset thing 9 Essential Elements of Multilingual Website Design 15+ Of The Funniest Menu Translation Fails Ever Instantly find all acronyms in a Word document Adverse Selection And Information Asymmetry How Five Ancient Languages Were Translated How to write successful summary translations Erfolgreich Übersetzungen in Auftrag geben Happy International Translation Day 2015! My Tailored Sitting/Standing Desk Set-up Using nonbreaking spaces in MS Word 6 Ways to Learn a Foreign Language Buddies Welcome Newbies at ata56 Linguistic conferences in October Interview: Corinne McKay Part II A Day in the Life of a Translator Medical Translation Regulations 15 Words we Need in English Spelling Check poem Podcasts to listen to […]


  10. Reblogged this on International Language Services – Isabelle F. Brucher – Translation office specializing in Law, Finance and Marketing since 2004.


  11. Just to console you about the fact that you arrived one day late: one of the presentations you with you had attented, “SAMEH RAGAB: The art of disaster recovery planning: Everything a translator needs to know to be prepared against computer disasters and loss of data [TECH]”, was planned at the same time as yours, so it would have been impossible for you to attend it anyway ! 😉


    • Sorry: “one of the presentations you wiSh you had attented” !


  12. Inbound marketing ( for translators works better (or even only works) with rare languages (e.g. Japanese, Chinese and Korean) and a clear specialisation field (e.g. patents).

    When you do legal translations from and to usual European languages: good luck…

    It’s important to be present on the Web, of course, but there is so much competition…


  13. As to your website (if it can help), I find it a bit hard to find from your blog pages.

    And even when one finds the correct button to click on – i.e. the one saying “” -, one still has to understand he has to click on the link “”.

    I wonder if renaming the said button as “Service Offer” might help a visitor find his way around faster ?

    And once on the following page, it might help the visitor if it says “Please click on the following link” – no ?

    What do others think of it ?

    I don’t understand how you managed because I created my blog + website with too (but more recently, so probably they automatised the website & blog creation) and the blog is embedded within the website.

    Renaming your said button might be important, because one reads the titles of six (6) other buttons before reading that one, and it does not clearly indicate what it’s all leading to – and once on the next page, the visitor finds an almost empty screen.

    Maybe just these two adjustments would help new visitors find their way around faster and better, before they get impatient and leave the place without finding what they were looking for.

    This is often the case with huge websites.

    For example, after one of my e-mailings, some huge direct client’s HR person sent me an e-mail abruptly telling me to register in their section for suppliers… and she only gave me the link to their homepage… and I NEVER found the proper section.

    I then sent her an e-mail asking her to send me the direct link or to explain how I could find the proper section, but she never answered (this was The Netherlands’ first bank)…

    So I assumed they already had too many translators registered (probably not as good as me, but tough for them at the bank !), so I remembered your piece of advice that small customers are usually more respectful of their translators and I left them in peace with their arrogance and their so numerous and so good translators… 🙂


  14. […] One reason I won’t be going to Miami is that my conference budget for this year was pretty much exhausted by my attendance as one of more than 20 speakers at the Third IAPTI Conference in Bordeaux 6 weeks ago. Although my journey to Bordeaux was harrowing, as you can read in my post here, I am so glad I did go to France. The Third IAPTI Conference, or the part of it that I still managed to witness after my misadventure in Atlanta, was very enjoyable and it gave me a lot of food for thought as you can read in this post. […]


  15. […] Other than that, the trip went without a major glitch, especially considering that during my last trip to France a few months ago, my plane was diverted to another airport, which felt like a fiendish and terrifying hijacking. After that I had to spend the night in an overpriced hotel in hot, humid and dirty Atlanta, a young French guy who was sitting in the seat next to me the threw up on me after his second cognac (and instead of apologizing, he just sheepishly avoided looking at me during the rest of the flight), and for good measure I found that Air France lost my luggage when I finally made it to Bordeaux as you can read in this post. […]


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